Getting the balance right between set-in-stone routines and flexibility that allows space for unplanned experiences isn’t easy, even for adults. So how do we create an equilibrium with families and children and all the moving parts that come with the territory?
For my husband, routines are golden. They seem to make everything work so much better for him. He is, somewhat paradoxically, an adventurous and interesting person and when life calls for it will throw caution to the wind and head out into the unknown – qualities I greatly respect him for. Still though, the answer to most things, for him, is to hunker down and get back to a routine. This mindset has served him so well that he achieves many of his goals. Over the years, I’ve almost begrudgingly come to see the merits of it.
If I’m honest though, this systematic approach to life is anathema to me. Growing up I feel like we had no routines at all. I didn’t have a bedtime, I didn’t have a wake-up time, and I certainly barely ever got enough sleep. During high school I recall often stumbling out of bed, skipping breakfast and running to catch the school bus. Weeknights, or weekends, if there was something going on, we would go. None of this staying home during the week business. I had literally no concept of certain times being set aside religiously for certain things.
As I got older and left home I noticed that other people knew how to set up routines and hold boundaries around them. If I invited a friend to brunch and they declined the offer so that they could stay home on a Saturday morning and do their washing and cleaning, I would feel confused and rejected. I genuinely thought they didn’t want to hang out with me. Who would turn down socialising for that? Why would you do the same things at the same times every week? Couldn’t you just do it later in the day? There’s no benefit in being so inflexible, I would think.
What about the kids?
So when I became a parent, it was an alien concept that I might need to adhere to certain rhythms. I used to think that I just wasn’t that kind of person. And secretly, I really believed that those kinds of people were a bit stuck in the mud, somehow uncreative or boring. Oh how wrong I was!
My first son also had no bedtime. We would go out whenever we were invited. I never said no to an invitation in order to stay home and clean or do the washing. Weeknights or weekends, if it was a late night, so be it. I had a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and often a long list of household chores left unattended as a result. It was a little bit chaotic and destabilising, but we muddled through.
Somehow though I always envied those people who’s washing was always done and lives seemed so together.
Flash forward to today and things have changed.
Now with three kids, a dog, a husband and more than one job I can no longer afford to be entirely lax when it comes to planning. It has taken many years but I now see that following the rhythms of our various lives helps us to feel safe and comfortable and affords us the ability to relax into a schedule.
There’s definitely still flexibility when necessary. I’m not a stalwart stickler for the calendar, but I’ll honour our rhythms and meet our commitments as a priority in itself now.
Since moving countries with young children a couple of times (once away from Australia to the UK, then back again into a new community) I noticed that honouring our own family routines really helped the kids settle and handle the transitions more gracefully. They could face uncertainty and unpredictably with far more resilience and adaptability out in the world when they had a safe, secure and attached experience at home.
This idea of building responsive rhythms is not new. Infant, toddler and preschool carers and educators are well aware of the power of a good routine. Children are so often at the mercy of forces beyond their control that knowing what is going to happen next gives them sense of security and safety. It’s reassuring for them to feel like they know what’s going to happen, and see that thing happen. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s a pretty human thing to feel too.
The benefits of routines for kids are that they feel safe and secure, they learn healthy habits and they have the opportunity to experience a sense of responsibility in adhering to those routines. For parents, routines can help ease the burden of having to organise a myriad of details around the different commitments and needs of family members. They can also save parents from the need to constantly make decisions whilst also freeing up time for fun and less scheduled activities.
Oddly enough, a good routine enables plenty of time to just go with the flow, which I something I never really understood in my younger days. There is a degree of mental freedom that comes along with a well-planned routine too.
I’d still rather call it a rhythm though – it just sounds more natural and responsive to me. Maybe it’s that I’m an artist at heart or maybe I’m just not made that way, I still tend towards the spontaneous even though I can see the benefits of planning and routines for my family.
Every family is different. And every balance of flexibility, rhythm and routine will be different too.
What does your family do? Share it so others can see what works for you and maybe learn a thing or two about your special balancing magic! If you’re struggling with the balance, head to this post and ASK ME ANYTHING.
Photo by Some Tale
Alena Turley is a founder, mentor, ethical content creator and mother of three based on Sydney's Northern Beaches. She is equal parts loved and fired up to support mums in making deep and lasting changes inside and out. We at the Soul Mama Hub acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we live, learn and create and invite you to feel deeply and tread lightly.